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Giving Compass' Take:
• Mark Keierleber details a recent study revealing the implicit racial bias of school resource officers in racially diverse schools.
• How might this impact the safety of students, especially in marginalized communities? What can you do to support school safety in an equitable, transparent fashion?
• Learn more about the prevalence of police officers in U.S. schools.
As school districts cut ties with police departments amid weeks of nationwide protests, new research finds an unsettling racial gap in the way campus officers perceive threats.
In a predominantly white and affluent suburban community, school resource officers worried most about intruders. Yet in an urban district made up predominantly of students of color and those who were low-income, police perceived students as the primary threat.
Juvenile arrest rates were similar in both communities, suggesting the results weren’t motivated by the prevalence of crime. Instead, researchers suggest, implicit racial bias among school-based police could be at play. But the divide suggests a problem that transcends a few “bad apples,” one that could be “baked into the system,” said Ben Fisher, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville.
Though the officers didn’t comment directly on their schools’ racial demographics, they frequently relied on what the researchers called “racialized tropes” to describe the students in their schools. While some officers claimed to not “see color,” police in the urban district blamed childrens’ upbringing and family dynamics — “a common racialized trope” — for creating schools where they felt educators “were at risk of losing control of the students at any given moment,” according to the report.
In both communities, officers said student aggression, including fights, posed a potential risk, but officials at the suburban schools were most concerned about cyberbullying. At the same time, the officers suggested student misbehavior wasn’t a major problem “because they were from upper- and middle-class families.” In contrast, officers in the urban community described student threats “as a certainty, not a possibility.” As such, officers’ perceptions could “expose students of color to more frequent and intense police interactions,” according to the report.
Read the full article about school resource officers by Mark Keierleber at The 74.